Brett Hetherington

Banner photos: Cornelia Kraft

Vicente Amigo – La Cuidad de las Ideas

[A version of this CD review was first published in Kansai Scene magazine.]

If you’re like me and you think that the term “ethnic music” is insultingly broad, you might also still believe that it’s possible to find good sounds in this same section of your local music shop.

One example of this is Vicente Amigo’s new release which could more fairly and accurately categorized as (modern) “flamenco.” Señor Amigo knows his roots and he gives due acknowledgement to Cordoba, the “city of ideas” in the song and album title, as well as in the numerous black and white photos of its Mezquita mosque-turned-church on the packaging. Even some of his guitar work suggests the gush of the Guadalquivir River that runs through Spain’s Andalucia region.

However, this dark-eyed talented musician has here put together a collection that is only half-suited to the purist. He seems to be doing what Joaquin Cortes has done with flamenco dancing, by combining traditional techniques with elements that might appeal to a wider audience outside his home country.

In so doing, Amigo is less convincing than when he sticks to using conventionally minimal backup like handclaps or box drumming. Only then does he create the rhythm and tension, la duende, which is essential in moving, free-spirited flamenco.

This CD provides good support for the argument that this style of music is best experienced when surrounded by the energy of a live performance, and that it loses emotional force when recorded in the sterility of a soundproof room.

But Amigo does have some excellent moments on some tracks and the historical influence of the Moors in this part of Spain is apparent when for example, the mournful Arabic-sounding singing of Khaled heightens the dramatic tempo changes of Ojos de la Alhambra.

On the opening track though (which is reprised at the end on a ‘Bonus Radio Edit for Japan Only’) this guitarist allows his skill to be buried under a sickly layer of ensemble schmaltz. Amigo embraces mainstream radio too closely at these times, tip-toeing on the fringes of “elevator music” territory.

He veers a long way from standard flamenco on Bolero de Vicente, employing a 19-piece orchestra, while the inclusion of harmonica on a few different tracks seems entirely out of place.

But if you-re relatively new to music from Spain, or usually find it a bit rough on the ear, then this disc could be the right kind of thing to win you over.